Sir Alex Ferguson says he doesn't sign players in January, but in January 2007 he stunned everyone with the inspired signing of Henrik Larsson.
Although Larsson only scored three goals in 13 matches, he had a galvanising effect on the squad, which went on to win the Premier League that season and reached the semi-final of the Champions League.
Ferguson was delighted with his signing in every way: "He's been fantastic for us, his professionalism, his attitude, everything he's done has been excellent."
So who might he sign to surprise us this January?
While he is insisting at every press conference that he will buy no one in January, there are many reasons why he may in fact do so.
There is a shocking catalogue of injuries. None of the other top teams are remotely near the number of players that United have in their treatment room. On Friday, United had nine players injured, Arsenal eight, but Chelsea, Liverpool and City had no more than three. In the latter case, Kolarov is the only problem, but even his is not serious.
What is even more disturbing is the number of those United injuries that are long term. Vidic may be out for a year and the seriousness of his injury—to all three of his knee ligaments—may mean he never returns. He certainly will never be the same player.
Anderson's own knee problems have returned. He broke a leg before he joined United and his own ligament difficulties are worrying. How many teams have had four such injuries at the same time? Chicharito damaged his ankle ligaments and will not be back before Christmas. Cleverley has been out for most of the season with a similar problem, because he was brought back too early.
With Fabio and Rafael suffering recurring niggles and Owen's perennial problems, Sir Alex has plenty to think about.
The other key factor is the departure from the Champions League. Although some might think this reduces the manager's challenges, he is a proud man and the financial advisers will be looking to fill the £20 million hole in the bucket from missing out on the knockout stages.
A Team in Transition, or a Club in Transition?
Plenty of people talk of Manchester United as a team in transition—not for the first time under Sir Alex Ferguson. He is trying to integrate the next generation of young players with an aging core of the squad. Scholes, Neville, Ronaldo, Van der Saar, O'Shea, Brown have gone. Giggs, Evra, Carrick, Berbatov, Ferdinand, Park, Owen will all probably go in the next two to three years.
But are United also a club in transition. While the Glazers' ownership has been widely unpopular, the club has been reinvented as a commercial business under the leadership of David Gill. Ferguson has been complicit in this. In general, he spends his money wisely and is as frugal as he can be.
To an extent this can be justified if he is still able to find bright young talent from United's Academy. Nobody outside the club thought that 'Fergie's Fledglings' would usher in an era of unparalleled success. That was the team that won the 1995 FA Youth Cup.
Sir Matt Busby created this rich heritage of home-produced talent. United won the FA Youth Cup in its first five years of existence. Those teams were the foundations of two generations of Busby Babes—pre and post the Munich disaster.
The team that won the same Cup last year had arguably an even greater breadth of talent.
Then there is the matter of the timing of Sir Alex's retirement. He alone will decide that, but he will not leave the club in dire straits at the last minute. You can be sure that a succession plan is already in place, agreed between Sir Alex, David Gill and Sir Bobby Charlton and rubber-stamped by the owners.
So although we may not know his own private plans and he appears to intend going on for a while yet (if his reaction to Wednesday night's disaster is representative), to satisfy his own pride and professionalism he has to balance his immediate plans for the team with the legacy he would wish to leave.
In that respect, it has become crystal clear that the most important aspects are: a club in sound sporting, business and financial condition; and above all a rich legacy and continuing vein of talented players on which to build the success of the next 10 years at least.
Whether you believe Tom Cleverley is the answer to the midfield conundrum, there is no denying two things: It hasn't been sorted since Roy Keane and later, Paul Scholes retired, and there is an immediate problem to be addressed. The resources are threadbare, and there is the most challenging Premiership for years, as well as fighting through the Europa League and, if possible, winning the FA Cup.
The other needs that must be addressed one way or another are central defence and goal-scoring.
Vidic may never return. You could read the tension in Sir Alex's face at his Friday Press Conference when he referred to Rio Ferdinand. Rio is playing as well as anyone at the moment but the extra games may put an intolerable stress on his back, and, if that gives way, three young centre backs will have to carry the team through the above challenges.
Up front, the dearth of credible resource was exposed on Saturday against Wolves. Macheda was the only striker on the bench and he has convinced no-one that he has a long-term future at United—both with his miss against Basel and his lack of impact against Wolves.
Sir Alex may talk up Diouf but surely that is only to get somebody else to pay good money to take him away. He is not even good enough to be a squad player at United, and it is hard to understand why Will Keane hasn't been given a chance ahead of him so far.
Sir Alex's Capacity to Surprise
He surprised us in 2007 with Larsson, and nobody expected the January signings of Vidic and Evra. Andy Cole and Diego Forlan also arrived in January.
He says he will not be making signings in January 2011 and argues about value and availability. But his asides indicate he would still consider someone at the right price and in the right circumstances.
So if we're looking for a wild card factor, it would need to balance the immediate needs with his longer term plans and the hunger to win something this year.
Elsewhere we have written about prospective transfers that are for the longer term. Here, we consider the short term expedients and one longer term prospect that could surprise us, without upsetting the apple cart.